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For example, words ending by "-ette" are very likey to be feminine.

So, are there other rules that can help to assess the gender?

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Not beyond a few very specific cases that often have exceptions. See also Comment fait-on pour reconnaître et mémoriser le genre des noms? – Gilles May 24 '12 at 19:41
    
Les mots en -ette sont tous féminins sauf squelette. – Arthur Nov 29 '15 at 17:39
    
@Arthur, pas seulement : un casse-noisette, endosquelette, exosquelette, fume-cigarette, lance-roquette, porte-cigarette, porte-serviette, presse-raquette, quartette, quintette. – jlliagre Nov 29 '15 at 22:21
    
Oui si tu veux mais noisette, cigarette, roquette, serviette, etc. son féminin. il es plus facile de se rappeler que les mots en -ette (sauf squelette) sont féminin, et les mots composés masculins. Quant à exosquelette et endosquelette, on imagine que si squelette et masculin... – Arthur Nov 30 '15 at 11:47
    
Quant à quartet, en français on dit plus souvent quatuor. quintet, quintette, vraiment si tu veux. Mais là on parlait de règle rapide qui permette de pas se tromper dans le langage courant. – Arthur Nov 30 '15 at 11:50
up vote 10 down vote accepted

I think the most useful rule of thumbs is that words ending with -e or -tion are usually feminine, others are usually masculine. I don't know if someone can come with precise figures, but I would say this holds for more than 80% of all words.

A lengthy but more refined version.

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1  
You could also add -ssion, -ante, -ente, -inte and -ée to the "usually feminine". And -t to the "usually masculine". – Alexis Pigeon May 24 '12 at 10:01
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@Alexis: Notice that -ante, -ente, -inte, -ée and -t are already included in the short and approximative rule :-) – Stéphane Gimenez May 24 '12 at 10:13
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I disagree with -e: un téléphone, un bocage, un verre... juste quelques exemples (un autre) trouvés en quelques secondes. – mouviciel May 24 '12 at 13:17
    
@mouviciel: It's a useful rule when you speak and you don't know the gender of a word, it's a good guess. As I said, it's just a rule of thumbs. But maybe you disagree with the 90% proportion? If you know a better estimation, please share it. – Stéphane Gimenez May 24 '12 at 13:29
    
Ok I did a quick estimate using nouns extracted from a text, the proportion seems closer to 80%. (I didn't count words which admit both genders). – Stéphane Gimenez May 24 '12 at 13:43

There is no general rule to determine the gender of a noun based on its spelling, however, many endings are either deterministic or at least strong clues to know the gender.

Here are some statistics based on a list of French words extracted from the Lexique 3.80 database which contains words built from 64.7 millions words found in 218 books from 1950 to 2000 and subtitles from 9474 movies, including TV series. Only singular (genre=f) common names (cgram=NOM) are analyzed. Results are not weighed by usage frequency.

Out of 27060 common names, 15292 are masculine (56.51%) and 11768 are feminine.

The following curve is displaying the distributions of noun endings usage according to their gender probability. All endings used by at least ten nouns are considered. The leftmost value shows that there are about 19000 nouns/endings combination sharing all endings having a probability between 95% and 100% to be feminine while the rightmost value shows that there are almost 32000 nouns/endings combination sharing all endings having a probability between 95% to 100% to be masculine. Note that most words are counted multiple times as endings from one to five characters are taken into account.

enter image description here

After analyzing the most frequent endings, i.e. those appearing in more than one hundred words, I get these numbers:

411 (96.028 %) out of the 428 words ending in -ette are indeed feminine.

Here are the most frequently feminine endings (> 90%):

ending | percent | total| masc. |  fem.|
trice  | 100.000 |  152 |     0 |   152|
logie  | 100.000 |  138 |     0 |   138|
ienne  | 100.000 |  137 |     0 |   137|
hie    | 100.000 |  109 |     0 |   109|
euse   | 100.000 |  473 |     0 |   473|
erie   | 100.000 |  349 |     0 |   349|
ction  | 100.000 |  152 |     0 |   152|
ance   | 100.000 |  238 |     0 |   238|
alité  | 100.000 |  122 |     0 |   122|
ation  |  99.910 | 1107 |     1 |  1106|
tion   |  99.865 | 1486 |     2 |  1484|
rie    |  99.771 |  436 |     1 |   435|
lité   |  99.638 |  276 |     1 |   275|
ilité  |  99.306 |  144 |     1 |   143|
ture   |  99.254 |  134 |     1 |   133|
use    |  99.229 |  519 |     4 |   515|
mie    |  99.213 |  127 |     1 |   126|
ence   |  99.043 |  209 |     2 |   207|
sion   |  98.953 |  191 |     2 |   189|
enne   |  98.788 |  165 |     2 |   163|
rice   |  98.734 |  158 |     2 |   156|
nne    |  98.723 |  235 |     3 |   232|
ogie   |  98.601 |  143 |     2 |   141|
nce    |  98.495 |  465 |     7 |   458|
esse   |  98.291 |  117 |     2 |   115|
ise    |  98.137 |  161 |     3 |   158|
gie    |  97.838 |  185 |     4 |   181|
ie     |  97.561 | 1353 |    33 |  1320|
ité    |  97.540 |  691 |    17 |   674|
ière   |  97.482 |  278 |     7 |   271|
nie    |  97.059 |  102 |     3 |    99|
ion    |  96.544 | 1765 |    61 |  1704|
ette   |  96.028 |  428 |    17 |   411|
tte    |  95.155 |  516 |    25 |   491|
ante   |  95.105 |  143 |     7 |   136|
ée     |  94.515 |  474 |    26 |   448|
se     |  94.463 | 1210 |    67 |  1143|
elle   |  94.186 |  172 |    10 |   162|
ine    |  93.800 |  500 |    31 |   469|
nte    |  92.827 |  237 |    17 |   220|
ose    |  91.667 |  108 |     9 |    99|
ade    |  91.176 |  170 |    15 |   155|
ce     |  91.165 |  747 |    66 |   681|
té     |  90.665 |  857 |    80 |   777|

Here are the most frequent masculine endings:

ending | percent | total| masc. |  fem.|
tage   | 100.000 |  139 |   139 |     0|
sme    | 100.000 |  519 |   519 |     0|
rd     | 100.000 |  265 |   265 |     0|
lisme  | 100.000 |  100 |   100 |     0|
isme   | 100.000 |  486 |   486 |     0|
ien    | 100.000 |  209 |   209 |     0|
ement  | 100.000 |  923 |   923 |     0|
ateur  | 100.000 |  250 |   250 |     0|
ard    | 100.000 |  237 |   237 |     0|
ment   |  99.899 |  986 |   985 |     1|
ent    |  99.726 | 1095 |  1092 |     3|
ier    |  99.629 |  539 |   537 |     2|
nt     |  99.464 | 1493 |  1485 |     8|
al     |  99.429 |  175 |   174 |     1|
er     |  99.401 |  835 |   830 |     5|
k      |  99.138 |  116 |   115 |     1|
ing    |  99.099 |  111 |   110 |     1|
at     |  99.038 |  208 |   206 |     2|
d      |  99.031 |  413 |   409 |     4|
en     |  98.913 |  276 |   273 |     3|
ant    |  98.895 |  362 |   358 |     4|
um     |  98.857 |  175 |   173 |     2|
age    |  98.849 |  869 |   859 |    10|
et     |  98.575 |  351 |   346 |     5|
t      |  98.545 | 2681 |  2642 |    39|
teur   |  98.381 |  556 |   547 |     9|
nage   |  98.165 |  109 |   107 |     2|
lage   |  97.945 |  146 |   143 |     3|
ng     |  97.902 |  143 |   140 |     3|
oir    |  97.761 |  134 |   131 |     3|
seur   |  97.727 |  176 |   172 |     4|
in     |  97.723 |  483 |   472 |    11|
lon    |  97.674 |  129 |   126 |     3|
c      |  97.590 |  166 |   162 |     4|
ton    |  97.500 |  120 |   117 |     3|
ot     |  97.487 |  199 |   194 |     5|
l      |  97.462 |  591 |   576 |    15|
au     |  97.368 |  228 |   222 |     6|
an     |  97.333 |  225 |   219 |     6|
g      |  97.238 |  181 |   176 |     5|
rage   |  97.059 |  102 |    99 |     3|
el     |  96.970 |  132 |   128 |     4|
il     |  96.825 |  126 |   122 |     4|
if     |  96.721 |  122 |   118 |     4|
u      |  96.266 |  482 |   464 |    18|
ain    |  96.154 |  104 |   100 |     4|
ou     |  96.078 |  102 |    98 |     4|
eau    |  96.020 |  201 |   193 |     8|
r      |  95.876 | 2716 |  2604 |   112|
ir     |  95.767 |  189 |   181 |     8|
m      |  95.455 |  286 |   273 |    13|
it     |  95.420 |  131 |   125 |     6|
rt     |  94.118 |  102 |    96 |     6|
eur    |  93.989 | 1464 |  1376 |    88|
ur     |  93.951 | 1521 |  1429 |    92|
i      |  93.883 |  376 |   353 |    23|
h      |  93.860 |  114 |   107 |     7|
f      |  93.720 |  207 |   194 |    13|
leur   |  93.103 |  145 |   135 |    10|
ge     |  92.545 | 1006 |   931 |    75|
o      |  90.094 |  424 |   382 |    42|

And here are the endings less likely to help figuring out the word genders:

ending | percent | total| masc. |  fem.|
ire    |  69.068 |  236 |   163 |    73|
a      |  57.570 |  568 |   327 |   241|
n      |  48.993 | 3525 |  1727 |  1798|
son    |  48.696 |  115 |    56 |    59|
pe     |  45.856 |  181 |    83 |    98|
re     |  43.318 | 1519 |   658 |   861|
é      |  40.311 | 1352 |   545 |   807|
que    |  39.093 |  353 |   138 |   215|
ule    |  37.209 |  129 |    48 |    81|
ue     |  33.849 |  517 |   175 |   342|
ique   |  33.679 |  193 |    65 |   128|
le     |  32.061 | 1048 |   336 |   712|
e      |  31.672 |12557 |  3977 |  8580|
he     |  30.420 |  286 |    87 |   199|

If we only analyze the gender based on the last character of each word, we can see it is easier to spot mostly masculine endings while this is not the case with feminine words. Only -e (with accented variants) and -n endings are more likely to be used by feminine words but not that much, all other ones are more likely to be masculine, including -a.

term.  | percent | total| masc. |  fem.|
v      | 100.000 |    3 |     3 |     0|
q      | 100.000 |    3 |     3 |     0|
j      | 100.000 |    2 |     2 |     0|
.      | 100.000 |    3 |     3 |     0|
'      | 100.000 |    3 |     3 |     0|
k      |  99.138 |  116 |   115 |     1|
d      |  99.031 |  413 |   409 |     4|
t      |  98.545 | 2681 |  2642 |    39|
c      |  97.590 |  166 |   162 |     4|
l      |  97.445 |  587 |   572 |    15|
g      |  97.238 |  181 |   176 |     5|
u      |  96.266 |  482 |   464 |    18|
r      |  95.876 | 2716 |  2604 |   112|
m      |  95.455 |  286 |   273 |    13|
i      |  93.883 |  376 |   353 |    23|
h      |  93.860 |  114 |   107 |     7|
f      |  93.596 |  203 |   190 |    13|
p      |  90.698 |   86 |    78 |     8|
o      |  90.094 |  424 |   382 |    42|
b      |  89.130 |   46 |    41 |     5|
x      |  87.500 |    8 |     7 |     1|
z      |  85.714 |    7 |     6 |     1|
y      |  84.404 |  109 |    92 |    17|
w      |  75.000 |    8 |     6 |     2|
s      |  68.182 |   22 |    15 |     7|
a      |  57.570 |  568 |   327 |   241|
n      |  48.935 | 3521 |  1723 |  1798|
é      |  40.311 | 1352 |   545 |   807|
ë      |  33.333 |    3 |     1 |     2|
e      |  31.672 |12557 |  3977 |  8580|
è      |   0.000 |    1 |     0 |     1|
â      |   0.000 |    1 |     0 |     1|
à      |   0.000 |    1 |     0 |     1|
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What corpus or dictionnary did you use? If you have access to word frequencies as well, ponderated ratios could also be relevant. – Stéphane Gimenez Nov 29 '15 at 17:32
1  
I'm using Lexique 3.80 lexique.org/telLexique.php . It includes word frequencies. I will update the tables with weighted ratios. I guess I'll also take the opportunity to remove the arbitrary 100 words with same ending requirement, this is likely ruling out relevant endings. – jlliagre Nov 29 '15 at 20:14
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Petit problème avec le dernier tableau : certains pourcentages sont faux par ce que le total n'est pas juste (cf. -logie, -alité et -ienne). – biozic Dec 1 '15 at 23:55
    
@biozic Oops, un bug s'était glissé dans certains calculs. Merci ! Réponse corrigée. J'ai aussi ajouté un graphique. – jlliagre Dec 2 '15 at 2:12
1  
@Làchus'n'AI C'est fait ! – jlliagre Dec 3 '15 at 4:27

The words ending with the sound "o" ("-eau") are generally masculine. Exemple: un château.

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The well known french poor man's rule for spanish is -o for masculine, -a for feminine. Ain't it working for french ? – Nikana Reklawyks Oct 17 '12 at 7:31
    
Ne fonctionne pas pour tout les mots. Par exemple la peau => nom féminin. Mais c'est vrai que la majorité des mots en eau sont masculin. – F. Geraerts Aug 27 '13 at 9:38
    
@F.Geraerts Oui. Eau et peau sont en fait les deux seuls noms communs non composés se terminant en -eau et féminins alors qu'il y a 177 noms communs en -eau qui sont féminins. – jlliagre Dec 2 '15 at 9:20
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@jlliagre -- Êtes-vous certain que le dernier mot au pluriel soit le bon ? – cl-r Mar 22 at 21:25
    
@cl-r bien vu ! Il s'agit bien sûr de « masculins ». – jlliagre Mar 22 at 21:56

Même pour un francophone, le genre d'un mot n'est pas toujours évident, et de nombreux jeux de société ont des questions sur le genre des mots, surtout s'ils sont faiblement usités…

Pour mémoriser, j'accole systématiquement un adjectif (dont on peut reconnaître le genre à l'oreille) qui complète la signification, quitte à faire un pléonasme pour en confirmer le sens :

  • un grand apogée
  • un interstice tout petit
  • ...

edit remplacement de minuscule par tout petit

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1  
Pour savoir si l'on doit dire une grande athénée ou un grand athénée, il faut connaître le genre de "athénée", le problème reste donc entier... Le Français est déjà assez compliqué avec ses multiples règles et exceptions, et dans ce cas-ci, ni règle ni exception, il faut juste le savoir, je peux comprendre à quel point cela est compliqué (d'autant que j'ai les mêmes problèmes en néerlandais par example...) – Laurent S. Nov 30 '15 at 9:43
    
@LaurentS. L'athénée est comme un lycée : deux masculins d'un coup, et en plus c'est facile à retenir : l'oreille retient la sonorité, ensuite un donne le genre d'une des deux finales -ée et on fait le lien :) – cl-r Nov 30 '15 at 12:06
    
« Une grande apogée » ?? – jlliagre Dec 3 '15 at 4:44
    
@jlliagre Bigre !!! on a beau se relire... merci... – cl-r Dec 3 '15 at 8:24

Yes; rules exist, but they predict gender mostly with at least 80% (but not 100%) accuracy.

See

I quote from the last paragraph (from p 22 of the PDF of 24 pages above) which answers your question more optimistically:

  Gender attribution rules based on noun endings, given their reliability and systematicity, are worthy of more attention in French reference books and French L2 classrooms. The foregoing corpus-based study confirmed that predictive rules for gender attribution do exist and apply to as many as 80 per cent of the nearly 10,000 nouns included in the analysis. More importantly, classroom studies have demonstrated that gender attribution rules are both teachable and learnable. Regardless of age, L2 learners can benefit from form-focused instructional activities that promote awareness of gender attribution rules and that provide opportunities for practice in associating grammatical gender with orthographic representations of constituent rhymes of literally thousands of nouns—both animate and inanimate alike.

I chanced on the following from Reddit:

I learned Spanish first and then French, and Spanish's gender is a lot more transparent for a novice. In Spanish, generally words ending in -o are masculine and those ending in -a are feminine. In French, generally words ending in a vowel SOUND are masculine and those ending in a consonant SOUND are feminine. The fact that a word like 'garçon' ends in a consonant letter but a vowel sound may be confusing for a new language learner.

With that said, there are a lot of times when French helps me figure out a gender in Spanish. For example, 'fuente' and 'puente' are ambiguous in Spanish, but in French, the equivalent cognates 'fonte' and 'pont' are pretty transparent.

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